Young Adult

[3.5 stars] Young Adult (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

IMDB bills this as a "comedy" but it's one of those comedies where nothing that happens is remotely amusing to its participants. Probably not for everyone, definitely not for the kiddos, but I thought it was a bit better than OK. Kept my interest anyhow.

Charlize Theron plays the protagonist, Mavis. She's a mess. Recently divorced, she lives with her cute dog in the urban jungle of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She's overfond of Maker's Mark and one night stands. Her day job is writing a schlocky book series for teenage girls ("Waverly Prep").

When Mavis gets a birth announcement from the wife of Buddy Slade, her old high school flame, she takes it as a prompt to travel back to her hometown. Her reprehensible mission: win Buddy back. She tackles this task with booze-fueled self-delusion. She confides in Matt, another high-school classmate who she only dimly remembers as the "hate-crime guy". Back in the day, Matt was badly beaten by jocks who thought he was gay. (Matt recounts that he was quite a celebrity until it was revealed that he wasn't gay; then everybody quickly lost interest.)

Mavis only inspires occasional sympathy, because she really is an awful person. What kept me interested: will her trek through the real world break through her sociopathic shell of self-absorption and offer her a chance at redemption? No spoilers here!

You will never feel sorrier for a dog.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:43 AM EST

Real Steel

[4.5 stars] Real Steel (2011) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

I will be honest with you: this movie isn't the most original one you'll ever see. Think Rocky, add robots, and a sprinkling of The Champ; you've pretty much got it. But, hey, it worked for me. There's a reason those movies are classics, after all.

Set in 2020, the Gentleman's Sport is now performed by machines. But people are still crazy for it, and big money is to be made at the top. But Charlie, played by Hugh Jackman, is as far from the top as he can get. He is skating on the edge of financial ruin, mainly due to his poor impulse control driving him to bad decisions. The opening scenes demonstrate this easily: he is reduced to pitting his beat-up robot against a bull at dinky county fair. Charlie loses focus while showboating, and the robot is reduced to scrap. He returns home in defeat, dismaying his sorta-girlfriend, Bailey (played by Evangeline Lilly)

Out of the blue, Charlie learns that his ex-wife has passed away, leaving their 11-year-old son, Max. Conniving Charlie manufactures a scheme to wangle some money out of Max's aunt and uncle; the downside is that he has to take the kid in tow for a few weeks.

Unexpectedly, Max is a robot boxing fanatic, and a mechanical whiz. He takes a shine to an old sparring robot they salvage from a junkyard. And (see above) you can kind of guess what happens then.

Hugh Jackman is very good (pretty much as he always is). Evangeline Lilly is fine, too; she's very easy to look at. The movie's world of 2020 is deftly imagined, with boxing venues ranging from the superglamorous to the post-apocalyptic. The robots are utterly believable.

Last Modified 2012-09-24 4:42 AM EST